If you don't know what Twitter is you are probably living in an alternate universe. But, although it's been pretty big for some time now, it feels like people don't really know how to use it correctly. It started out very simple: I create a network of friends and people can send short messages through their cellphone or online to say what they were doing now. This way people can quickly organize themselves and know what their friends were doing.
But then it turned into a "stalker" type environment: there is this set of people that I'm interested in and I follow them to know what they are thinking. On the other side, I want to advertise myself to my "stalkers" (or fans if you want to put a positive twist to it) and keep them thinking that I'm a good person.
The problem in my opinion with this new reason for twitter is that it's not that good at that. It centralizes everything into one platform that allows you to have only 140 characters to send out your message. So it becomes a world of sending links around that is very hard to index and organize. And if you want to keep an eye to what is going on, you have to be online all the time and reading a lot of things (that are now linked around and not there for you to filter based on the text).
Then what happens when you have a tool that people can't really find a perfect use for but lots of people are using it? Well, you start experimenting! People start using it to try to promote themselves by starting to follow somebody, which will make this person look at what you have and decide if they are going to follow you or not. That's what happened today when I was followed by masstransitnow, a political temporary twitter account that is trying to pass some proposition to increase the amount of money sent to mass transit in the greater Seattle area.
There are others, like comcastcares that tries to use twitter to solve customer problems with Comcast.
Does this type of thing work? Well, it's not a great way of sending good content to people, but it's a cheap way of getting your name out there and getting a couple of hundred people to know that you exist. The numbers are completely meaningless for most of those applications (what would 200 extra votes do to a proposition being selected in a place like the whole state of Washington?), but it's easy and free. You only need 140 characters a day and people will keep you in mind.
So back to my personal experience: do I use twitter for anything useful? Actually no. I end up writing less because things that I want to write are too long to twitter about, but because I first try using twitter, I feel like in order for me to post it on this blog it needs to be more in-depth, which usually means that it just never gets written.
I'm actually amazed that I was able to finish this post... Before 2 AM!